The Government has at last seen sense and done what we and so many others have been asking for. Today it has announced it is bringing the maximum stake per spin on the casino games gambling machines – the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, so called – down from £100 to £2. This brings them into line with other gambling machines in high street betting shops. This is very good news. Congratulations to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and all others who have argued for this change for several years.
There are several lessons to be learned from this. One is that even a government besieged by heavy industry lobbying and contrary voices in its own ranks, will eventually listen to the collective voice of individuals, families and communities who know from their own experience how dangerous these machines are, and to the opinions of those who represent them.
But there are further questions to be asked and lessons to be learned here. Why has it taken so long to reach this decision? And, why were these machines, with such a high stake, permitted in betting shops in the first place? To answer those questions it needs to be understood that gambling has been allowed to steadily get out of control in Britain since New Labour days. Has a corner now been turned?
Today’s announcement is good in itself but it needs to be followed by a hard look at how it was possible for the gambling industry to get away with putting on the market a new product without a full and proper impact assessment. If that assessment had been made 15 years ago, FOBTs with such a huge maximum stake would have been recognised as having all the hallmarks of a particularly dangerous and addictive form of gambling.
There are also lessons here for the way gambling is regulated in Britain. I hope we will now see serious attention being paid to other important gambling policy issues such as mandatory loss limits and control on advertising and sports sponsorship.
There are lessons too for the Gambling Commission which advised against this level of reduction. The Commission now needs to look at itself very critically to try and see why it got this wrong. Thankfully in the end Government didn’t listen to its advice. There are bigger questions too that we now need to be asking – to do with how industry has been allowed to infiltrate public policy and to have such undue influence on the gambling research agenda in Britain.